Preseason is the time when jobs are on the line, players are determined to prove themselves and new stars enter the CFL. With the first preseason game kicking off this afternoon, I thought I’d make a list of new faces on each team that I’m excited to see in preseason for each team (yes, even the ones that don’t have televised games). This isn’t necessarily a list of the best players, most impressive in camp or biggest names, just six players I’m intrigued by in no particular order and veterans need not apply.
6 Intriguing Players to Watch in the Preseason for each CFL Team
The new look Lions have loaded up with big name stars, but that means they’ll need some unproven rookies to make big impacts to offset the cap costs. The Leos have big camp battles at receiver, kicker, defensive end and for spots in the defensive backfield.
1. Victor Gamboa, DB, Eastern Washington
Gamboa is an instinctual DB who reads QBs exceptionally well, proven by his 7 career picks in college. This often compensated for his lack of natural athleticism as a man cover man. If the whispers of the Lions playing an International safety are true, Gamboa could be a natural fit to play that position.
2. Mat Boesen, DE, TCU
A tweener tailor made for the CFL game, Boesen plays with a reckless abandon that should endear him to fans. He was an All-Big 12 pass rusher at TCU with 11 sacks his senior year but undersized for the NFL. While special teams’ upside could get him on the Lions roster, he could develop into something much more special.
3. Ronley Lakalaka, LB, San Diego State
Lakalaka’s stats and athleticism don’t exactly jump off the page but he was a heart and soul guy at SDSU that stepped up in big moments and made those around him better. The Lions need an American insurance policy behind projected WILL Maleki Harris and I’m intrigued to see what Lakalaka could do with that role.
4. Keiler Cherry, OL, Acadia
One of my favourite prospects from the 2018 Draft, injury kept Cherry from being selected or playing last year. The Lions signed him this offseason to little fanfare and it could pay off big in the long run. Cherry was a man against boys in the AUS, it will be fascinating to see how he translates against CFL competition for the first time.
5. Jamaal Jones, REC, Montana
An extremely twitchy receiver, Jones was explosive in college and proved himself on NFL practice rosters. He has a ton of potential and with an International receiver spot up for grabs on the Lions, I wonder if Jones could be that number three threat in the slot.
6. Octavio Gonzalez, DE, Fundirores (LFA)
One of just 3 Mexican defensive linemen in CFL camps. The top sackmaster in Mexico has a size and skillset that is as good as any National/International and even earned a mini-camp invite from the New York Giants. He’ll be looking to prove he’ll be more that a mandatory roster player.
The Green and Gold may look almost nothing like they did last year but there are surprisingly few spots on their roster that are obviously up for grabs. Most of the competition will be for depth roles but the Esks have been legendary for injuries in recent years so that is just as important as a starting job.
1. Oshane Samuels, DB, Edmonton Huskies (CJFL)
Every once in a while, you watch CJFL tape and a player looks like a man amongst boys. Oshane Samuels is that player. He played every role for the Huskies defence and was virtually unblockable as a special teams’ gunner. Samuels could earn a gameday role with a good camp and has the skillset to grow into a starting safety down the road.
2. Darius Jackson, DE, Jacksonville State
Named the top defensive player in the FCS in 2017 and with 27.5 career sacks to his name, Jackson is a dominant edge rusher. Slow testing took him off NFL Draft boards a year ago but that can only be the CFL’s gain and I expect Jackson to turn heads in the pre-season.
3. Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State
Briscoe was a prolific passer in college, throwing 57 TDs in a single season and twice winning the Walter Payton Award as FCS MVP, a feat only accomplished once before by Argos receiver Armanti Edwards (then a quarterback). Other QBs to win the award include Steve McNair, Dave Dickenson, Tony Romo, Bo Levi Mitchell and Jimmy Garoppolo. That’s illustrious company and Briscoe is an intriguing option for Edmonton to mold into a potential future starter.
4. Tevaun Smith, REC, Iowa
After three years bouncing around the NFL, Ed Hervey’s final draft flyer has arrived in Edmonton. The expectations for Smith are sky high and he could be a Day One starter, but he needs to prove himself first.
5. DJ Calhoun, LB, Arizona State
Calhoun is a violent player who makes his presence felt all over the field. He even has more sacks than most of the D-linemen that the Esks brought in. With the ratio shift to an International at WILL and Jovan Santos-Knox currently nursing an injury, Calhoun has an opportunity to make a case for early play time.
6. Jair Viamontes, REC, Mayas CDMX (LFA)
When the Eskimos selected Viamontes first overall in the Mexican draft, I scratched my head a little as he wasn’t overly productive in league play last year. But when you watch him play, you can see what the Eskimos saw: a crisp route runner with 4.38s speed. Few players, regardless of nationality, have wheels like Viamontes.
The Stampeders have done the same thing they do every offseason, lose players and reload from within. The core elements the Stamps consistent dynasty come through the prospects they bring into training camp and this year is no different.
1. Lorenzo Jerome, DB, Saint Francis (PA)
The first player in 52 years to go from Saint Francis to the NFL, Jerome was a triple threat in college, scoring on defence, special teams and offence. He seems like a natural fit for the Stampeders secondary with fantastic speed and ball skills.
2. Jerod Fernandez, LB, NC State
With over 300 career tackles at a major Division 1 program, to say Fernadez was productive would be an understatement. His ability to make plays sideline to sideline is particularly intriguing as the Stamps look to revamp their linebacking corps.
3. Nate Holley, LB, Kent State
A safety in college, Holley racked up 426 tackles by coming down in the box with speed. He is intriguing as a CFL SAM, one of the hardest positions in sport to learn. It will be interesting to see how he adapts in the preseason.
4. Anthony Gore, LB, Kennesaw State
Another linebacker who could compete for a role, Gore’s violent tackling absolutely pops on tape. He is afraid of no man and has blitzing skills that remind me of Alex Singleton.
5. Josh Huff, REC, Oregon
A former 3rd Round NFL Draft pick, Huff never progressed past role player status in the NFL. His speed and skillset fit the CFL game extremely well and it will be interesting to see how seriously he is taking this chapter of his football career when he takes the field.
6. Zacary Alexis, DB, Montreal
Alexis was a long, lean, shutdown cover man for the Carabins before an injury derailed his pro football hopes. He’s attempting to make a comeback after not playing since 2017 and Stamps fans should be excited to see what he can do.
It’s the start of the Craig Dickenson era in Riderville, which will mean some roster turnover as the new Head Coach attempts to put his stamp on his team. Some Chris Jones projects will likely be kicked to the curb, meaning depth spots are up for grades if you catch the head honcho’s eye.
1. Davon Jernigan, DB, Lamar
A physical defensive back with a nose for the football, Jernigan has an intriguing skillset that is well suited to the CFL. He could be a candidate for a designated import role.
2. Charbel Dabire, DT, Wagner
Dabire was drafted after being an excellent run-stuffing defensive tackle down south, a skill set that doesn’t always translate well in Canada. Dabire has unique athleticism however and has garnered praise in camp, making how he’ll perform on the wide Canadian field all the more intriguing.
3. Christopher Judge, LB, Cal Poly
The former actor four years removed from competitive football was the Riders final selection in the 2019 draft and is a complete and total wildcard. He could be a brilliant special teamer or completely fail to readjust to the pace of the game. Only what he does on gameday will tell us.
4. Ty Gangi, QB, Nevada
A mobile quarterback with a strong arm and good accuracy, Gangi is an intriguing name in the Riders QB room as they search for someone to develop internally to take over for Collaros.
5. Paul McRoberts, REC, Southeast Missouri State
Best known for his time on Hard Knocks, where he battled through the murder of his brother during camp to earn a PR spot, McRoberts is not to be dismissed as a talent. He’s a big target with great hands who can really move.
6. Max Zimmermann, REC, Potsdam (GFL)
He may have quit his job as a teacher to live his dreams, but the thing we should be focusing on is that Zimmermann is Germany’s best receiver. Here’s hoping he can impress on the field across the Atlantic as well.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
The Bombers have been building through quality scouting throughout the Kyle Walters era and are just now reaching their peak. That doesn’t mean their job is done however and there will be spots up for grabs in the receiving corps, defensive backfield and offensive line.
1. Mike Jones, DB, Temple
Jones is strong in man coverage and breaks up passes with violent hands. How he adjusts to the intricacies of the CFL game remains to be seen, but he could develop into a shutdown player.
2. John Santiago, RB, North Dakota
The back from North Dakota that everyone is excited to see is draft pick Brady Oliviera but he was part of a one-two punch. Santiago is a CFL quality back and while he’s a long shot to make the roster due to the ratio, the tape he produces might catch another team’s eye.
3. Thiadric Hansen, LB, Kiel Balt. (GFL)
When you sleep in a bus station just so you can play for peanuts in Germany, you know you are passionate about the sport of football. Hansen is living his dream and it will be fascinating to see how his “at all costs” attitude translates on the field while trying to earn a job on special teams.
4. Asotui Eli, OL, Hawaii
Perhaps the most talented lineman, and certainly the biggest wildcard, in the draft, Eli will be suiting up for the first time in a calendar year and winning a starting job is not out of the question. I’m excited to see how his injured knee holds up under the stress of gameplay.
5. Rasheed Bailey, REC, Delaware Valley State
Bailey has turned a lot of heads in training camp and for good reason. He was absolutely explosive in college, blowing past defenders like they were pylons. He has bounced around a lot since college but could make a home in Winnipeg.
6. Matt Hazel, REC, Coastal Carolina
Hazel got the attention of the Bombers at mini-camp and has maintained it early in training camp. He boxes out and high points the ball exceptionally well. With plenty of experience at various pro camps, Hazel seems committed to this latest opportunity.
With June Jones and Jerry Glanville’s schemes giving way to that of Tommy Condell and Orlando Steinhauer, expect the Ti-Cats to undergo subtle roster shifts as well. With incredible ratio flexibility on the roster, a lot of spots are up in the air.
1. Lorenzo Mauldin IV, DE, Louisville
A former third round pick of the Jets, a back injury derailed Mauldin’s NFL career after two unspectacular seasons. His versatility at his size could be explosive in the CFL and could see him compete for playtime.
2. Avery Young, OL, Auburn
When it comes to American tackles, the Ti-Cats should investigate all options and Young should get a long look. The former third team All-SEC tackle played all along the line as a three-year starter at Auburn and performed decently well in the AAF. With Ryker Mathews signed, they don’t need a starter but depth is massively important to any team.
3. Jaelon Acklin, REC, Western Illinois
Acklin has turned a lot of heads in camp, and not just because he tried to cold-cock Delvin Breaux. He burst onto the scene in his senior year at Western Illinois and pairs incredible speed with a hardnosed play style.
4. David Ungerer, REC, Idaho
The Canadian Weston Dressler burst on to the draft scene late but to much fanfare. He was seen as a perfect fit for the June Jones Run and Shoot offence, but now that the offence will change fans should be excited to see how he might be used.
5. Tyrice Beverette, LB, Stony Brook
Their has been massive turnover in the Ti-Cats linebacking corps and Beverette might be the solution. He played sideline to sideline in college, was dangerous as a pass rusher and consistently a playmaker in coverage.
6. Jose Noriega, REC, Aztecas UDLAP (LFA)
A very productive receiver in Mexico, Noriega has excellent size and athleticism at his disposal. What most intrigues me is his intelligence, as he put his career as a lawyer on hold to play in the CFL. This should help him pick up the intricacies of the CFL game and adapt to a special teams’ role.
The Argos desperately need to get better and Corey Chamblin needs to put his mark on the largely Marc Trestman constructed team. That means lots of spots up for grabs and plenty of intrigue for fans in the Six.
1. Donald De La Haye, K, UCF
Yes, kickers can sell tickets. The gimmick kicker, who lost his scholarship because of his highly successful Youtube channel, has skills but little game experience. He may just be a publicity stunt by the Argos but has the leg to surprise.
2. Shane Richards, OL, Oklahoma State
Richards was the first overall pick in the Draft, and many pundits (including myself) didn’t think he merited it. He should be highly motivated to prove doubters wrong with a strong preseason.
3. Michael O’Connor, QB, UBC
The prodigal son of Canadian QBs, O’Connor has spent his whole life being told he would be a pro quarterback. Well, its finally happened and its time to see how he performs when the real bullets start flying.
4. Darren Carrington II, REC, Utah
Carrington has the distinction of being 2nd Team All-PAC12 with two different teams and is an excellent route runner who wins contested balls exceptionally well. After cutting his teeth on the practice squad at the end of last year, Carrington could assume a depth role this year.
5. Christian Hernandez, LB, Fundidores (LFA)
External circumstances with two of their draft picks have left the Argos in a tough situation for filling the Global player spot. Hernandez is the frontrunner for the job, and it may be to the Argos’ benefit. He was one of the most prolific tacklers in Mexico and that should allow him to help on special teams.
6. Nate Rogers, REC, Wayne State
Receivers with 6’5 size and smooth route running are as rare as they are valuable. That makes Rogers a very intriguing prospect as the Argos look to add young receiving talent.
It was a disastrous offseason for the Redblacks, costing them several big-name stars. That means that Rick Campbell will lean on young talent as they try to rebuild on the fly.
1. Max Valles, DE, Virginia
Valles is a tweener who entered the 2015 NFL Draft after a nine sack sophomore season at Virginia but failed to catch on as a sixth round pick, in part due to his youth. He’s still extremely young and mouldable, with more experience than most players his age and impressive pass rush skills off the edge.
2. Shaheed Salmon, LB, Samford
Salmon is a unit who is particularly difficult to block, allowing him to get in the backfield and make 40 tackles for loss over the course of his career. He can fill a hole with authority but also has some coverage upside.
3. Deshawntee Gallon, LB, Georgia Southern
The man called “Ironhead” was a downhill all-conference safety in college and made plays in all aspects of the game. While the Redblacks already have a young SAM in Anthony Cioffi but Gallon could be an intriguing depth option.
4. Stephane Nembot, OL, Colorado
Not far removed from a devastating knee injury that doctors told him would prevent him from ever playing football again, Nembot is making a comeback. He is a smooth pass setter with fantastic length that could solve the Redblacks tackle problem, plus he can trash talk opponents in 13 different languages.
5. Dalton Crossan, RB, New Hampshire
Crossan is a versatile back who is explosive out of cuts and is great out of the backfield. With Mossis Madu assuming the starting role in Ottawa, Crossan could demand some game time with a strong preseason.
6. Guillermo Villalobos, REC, Monterrey (LFA)
Mexico’s lone thousand-yard receiver looked like a man amongst boys in the LFA and I wasn’t honestly surprised he fell to the Redblacks. Villalobos may not have the same high-level athletic numbers as some of the players selected ahead of him but that hasn’t shown on the field. It will be interesting to see if that remains the case in Canada.
The Alouettes are nothing if not dysfunctional and constantly in need of talent upgrades. However, dare I say that things may actually be looking up thanks to some new additions and some intriguing prospects in camp.
1. Ryan Carter, DB, Clemson
Carter has suffered from being undersized his whole life but being the starting corner on a National Championship team was no fluke. He has great instincts in coverage and could be a gem in the CFL.
2. Enrique Yenny, K, ITESM (LFA)
Easy money might be on Yenny being the most impactful Global player this year. The Als haven’t been content with Bede (the pre CFL 2.0 Global player) for a while and Yenny has an absolutely monster leg that could turn heads in the preseason.
3. Tevin Floyd, LB, The Citadel
Floyd is a full field linebacker who can run stuff and drop into coverage. The former college shotputer smells like an impactful special teamer.
4. Jake Wieneke, REC, South Dakota State
Wieneke was a small school standout with fantastic hands and body control. His frame and play style scream CFL slotback and the use of the waggle should make up for the speed deficiencies that kept him out of the NFL.
5. Quan Bray, REC, Auburn
Bray was a dangerous returner at Auburn and that skill set has bounced him around the NFL for a while. The Als need to find an heir for Stefan Logan and it will be fascinating to see how Bray fares under the CFL’s returner friendly rules.
6. Marcus Cromartie, DB, Wisconsin
Cromartie hung around the NFL for six years as an undrafted player, no easy feat, and its easy to see why. He was a solid cover man in college and showed some flashes in the NFL. Cromartie could be an easy stop gap at corner while new signee Ciante Evans recovers from an AAF injury.